Our award-winning film ‘Pushing the Scene’ has spurred some good interest in the forums as well as amassed a delightful number of viewers. Just to give an update on this, the film, which was released on Vimeo last November 2011, has got over 4000 views only in a matter of months. From an academic point of view, this needs to be considered some sort of success: typically academic research projects and their findings are available only to a handful of people (i.e. academics). Let’s hope we can spread the word even more so here’s the film one more time!
Are you about to engage in the business of doing academic films? Or do you already have a nearly finished film project on desktop? Before you move on, here are some key considerations that you should take into account that may help you in overcoming some of the most common challenges in film production. The insights are based on reflections and discussion from ACR 2011 special session on “making better video ethnographies”, chaired by Paul Henry and Marylouise Caldwell (University of Sydney).
As increasing number of academics are planning and doing academic videographies – i.e. academic research on video format – it is worthwhile to consider some common themes that often have a significant impact on the success of such projects, especially in the case where the researcher’s aim is to produce ethnographies on video. Among these, we feel that following points should be acknowledged.
Composition of the research team
Although we believe that it is possible to do academic films also as solo projects, we think that having a team may offer several benefits. Most importantly, simply the act of filming and interviewing at the same time is rather hard – especially if you want to use several cameras and points of view. So having multiple members in a team will help. The second most important consideration could be whether you want to make one of your key informants (i.e. insiders in your research scene) a team member too. Our own experience with the films ‘Pushing the Scene’ and ‘Brothers in Paint’ has been that “insider member” is like having a guarantee for your film success. Building your film on a dialogue between your key informants is way more interesting than more direct Q&A style of interviewing between the researcher and the researched. This leads us into the second key point:
Access to informants / phenomenon
Doing ethnography means having access into a (cultural) phenomenon and people in it. Although as in any ethnographic project, we believe that when shooting video, this aspect becomes even more challenging. Pulling a camera out in an interview situation may scare people off and make them nervous. Here also having an insider member may help significantly.
Storytelling in video
Making academic films is always a business of building a compelling story and showing evidence on your topic/argument. However, telling a compelling story on film vs. academic paper is something that we should investigate and practice further on. It seems that filmmakers tend to rely on storytelling tactics common to academic papers – something which may not necessarily work out as well on film. Here, watching what documentary filmmakers (and why not other similar artists) are doing may prove helpful. For example, think about different ways of showing emotion, affect, and contrast on film! In addition, embedding your story into an authentic material and spatiotemporal context is a crucial yet difficult task.
Theory building and linking
Should your film include theory or references to prior research? Yes. The business of academic film production is always a business of building theory and/or linking your study within wider interpretive frames that stand on existing research/literature. Of course, again, there are different ways of doing this and we believe that references to others’ work can be done in a discrete manner (and just a personal tip – it’s not a very good idea to show the article or book cover in the film!), employing either voiceover or text on film. In addition, it is also inevitable to communicate your conclusions / contributions to theory – something that STILL seems to be missing from some of the films. Using visualization and graphical (and why not symbolic as well) expression here is a good idea.
Voice of god or talking heads? How to narrate and communicate your story? Common trend in documentary filmmaking is the use of “voice of god” type of voiceover which explains what the film is about and what happens in it etc. We think that here filmmakers could be more creative and reflective in their approach. We wrote about this point in an recent article (it can be found in my thesis, page 128-151).
Yes, it seems that you cant plan enough for successful film production! This is a very good point brought up by Marylouise and Paul. Not to mention having enough battery and memory in your cam, there are different ways you can also script and blueprint your film beforehand. This saves you energy and time. Think about which sections, arguments, locations, sites and key informants you actually need in the final film. And finally, don’t forget to shoot b-reel film. It can save you in a number of ways once you get into the editing phase.
And the list continues… hope you find these helpful! Thanks for the participants in the session ;)
Right then, the following is quite a bit overdue, so I guess its better to jump right in. After our little escapade to meet the New York dubstep scene, we all quickly washed the most important articles of clothing, rezipped our bags, and headed back out there, this time to London to do what we set out to do across the pond in a dandy British setting.
Don’t get me wrong, this videography hustle does come with a wealth of new experiences and amounts of a kind of hard-pressed fun (with all the hurry and the gear-related hassle), but having been out on our videographic odyssey for close to a month does lend itself to certain abuses. Yes, we were beginning to become somewhat fatigued by being crammed together in our (certainly too) modest hotel rooms. One must say I have to be traveling with the greatest team of all time, as we eventually seemed to endure our hasty run in London without any major hitches.
Again, our agenda was filled with interesting places to be and people to meet. We would be attending the legendary DMZ dubstep party night in Brixton, meet up with Oneman during his Rinse FM show, talk to Benny Ill at the place of the pioneers – the Horsepower Productions studio, catch up with Blackdown, Cyrus, Distance, Boomnoise, and finally cut some dubplates at the renowned Transiton Mastering Studios.
At the DMZ night we got to hear the influential sounds of dubstep pioneers the likes of Loefah and Coki, and in addition, we had the privilege of shattering our eardrums to the refreshingly minimalist sound of the up-and-coming James Blake. Whilst we were unable to get any in situ interviews during the night, we were (surprisingly enough) able to get ourselves into the party mood to an extensive degree. This was not a shortcoming however, as our planners were heavily booked through the coming week.
The following night we got to sneak into the legendary Rinse FM show, and Risto under his producer alias, Desto, ended up spinning his plates too. Quite the world premier for him in such a context. After the show (in the very late night) we got chat with Oneman and Asbo in the somewhat rough (somebody actually tried to do some business-a-bit-on-the-shady-side with us while we were shooting) streets of Brixton. Yet, it was especially interesting to get Oneman’s and Asbo’s knowledgeable take on the present state and future of the culture in an ever-digitalizing world. Thanks for the ride guys!
The next notable (and very much so) setting for us was the Horsepower Productions studio of Benny Ill in Southern London. This was another great highlight for us, as Benny and his Horsepower Productions studio is touted as a true place of origin for many dubstep sounds. During the course of the interview, Benny invited Lev Jnr to join us. We had a great time discussing primarily about the history of the scene in their old-school surroundings complete with heaps of gear topped off with the worthy addition of an old Atari ST. Big thanks to Benny and Lev for letting us into your home!
Also, we were able to quickly meet up with Blackdown and Boomnoise to get some truly analytic accounts of the fast-paced developments in the scene, along with a visit to the studio of Distance and Cyrus, for more historical accounts spiced up with an analysis of the economic rationale of being a contemporary dubstep producer, as the sound is undergoing increasing pressures of commercialization.
Finally, we took the tube to South East London Forest Hill to Transition Mastering Studios, where we were able to get both LD and Jason into the view of our lenses along with an interesting experience of truly professional mastering work as LD cut two dubplates for Risto including tunes from Late, Kfka, and Tes La Rok. At Transition the topics mostly hovered around the role of the dubplate culture in dubstep and the implications of ever-increasing digitalization and the effect of digital DJ technologies such as Serato.
Again, thank you all! Now back in Finland, I have to say I’ve had my fill of running around the world touting various recording equipment with my arm constantly reminding me of a developing camera-elbow. Fortunately, one can now feel some preliminary accomplishment, as the bulk of our material is done. With now just a couple of places to visit in Finland, it seems the editing table is the next embedded cultural context for us.
While we continue to have our sights set to the ACR submission in February 2011, we have, being the busy little bees that we are, started to think about a much wider array of uses for our material than the ACR alone. Stay tuned!
In addition to the themes covered in the previous posting, here’s to summarize some of this year’s sessions (with a couple of notes linking to our own project). The themes included: new research methods, postmodern and ethnic consumption, challenges linked to public goods/services, class dynamics and consumption, consumer culture in third world countries, consumer resistance/culture jamming, culture and ideology, market-mediated relationships, the contested notion of place that shapes consumer experiences, femininity, consumer-marketer co-creation, community and family, mediated images and ideologies of body and health, consumer identity practices, critical questions on consumer culture terminology, and finally, socio-cultural construction of authenticity — session where we presented this time.
I particularly liked the session on new methods. Visual Analysis (VA) was explored as a tool for gaining cultural insight on consumer behavior and practices. Kristen San Jose presented a piece in which she applied VA in the context of fashion consumption in Tokyo. Although there’s a long tradition of visual research in CCT, I agree that there’s plenty of future opportunities in this regard. For instance, researchers (and companies alike) often rely on text-based analyses. For us, it would be interesting to extend VA also towards moving images / video, something I haven’t seen yet. Adding nicely to the session, Alex Thompson’s presentation brought about interesting views on how companies perceive and conceptualize consumers, in a study where commercial ethnography was the focus. I liked the way in which video was used as a means to communicate consumer knowledge to company executives — this nicely contrasts with more traditional ppt presentations and figures we’re used to. Alex’s points about different mechanisms at play, including rituals, embodiment and symbols, are something video really can capture in an intriguing way.
Another interesting session set out to re-conceptualize the contested notion of place. Drawing insights from material culture theory, Jeppe Trolle Linnet’s presentation shed light on material and social aspects of place and space in the context of home and homeyness (what he called ‘hygge’ in Danish). It was interesting to see how this hygge is constructed and negotiated in different settings, not only at home but also in other social places such as neighborhoods or communities. They act as a sort of social comfort zone, a cozy, warm, and safe environment that is distinguished from other non-hyggelig, cold, and modern places. In a closely related study Zeynep Arsel and Jonathan Bean presented on ‘apartment therapy’ — a conduct in which people modify their homes through interior design to better match their desires. In our own research we’re also interested in how such interlinked and mediated cultural spaces and sites are at play.
In the co-creation session, several papers sought to understand the cultural dialogue and co-creation between consumers and producers/marketers. Robert Harrison presented a fascinating paper on Black Friday – a sort of corporate ritual and event which is largely the result of consumer’s active participation during a consumption event. Another really nice paper was by Daiane Scaraboto and Rob Kozinets who investigated the community of geo-cacaching — a sort of GPS treasure hunt game invented and organized by consumers. This study showed how consumer’s infinite innovative potential, playfulness, and creativity plays an important role in the creation of a new markets — exactly what we’re also seeing our own study.
Finally, our own session in which authenticity was explored as an essential component and a driver of culture. I think the session was very interesting as it nicely brought together three distinct viewpoints on authenticity — namely brand, place, and consumption-production interplay. As it was noted, in consumer research authenticity is often investigated by looking at consumer perceptions, and it is commonly tied to certain objects (e.g. brands), lifestyles, or places. In our presentation on electronic music culture, we wanted to consider how authenticity — which often drives cultural change in (music) culture — is actually achieved and negotiated by different influential cultural agents. In our study these agents in fact simultaneously adopt the role of producers, DJs, and consumers. We also brought with us our new research team member Risto (aka Desto) who is an authoethnographic member in our research team and a DJ/producer himself. This move was very well received, and we had lots of lively discussions after our presentation. Thanks for everyone involved!
Overall this fifth annual CCT conference pointed out many interesting future directions. Especially, the increasing attention to spatial and embodied aspects of culture as well as emphasis on creative methodologies — including audiovisual and multi-method approaches — brings to the fore new thrilling work that is currently emerging.
Joonas and I just attended CCT5, consumer culture theory conference in Madison, Wisconsin, held at the Grainger Center of the University of Wisconsin’s Wisconsin School of Business. Attendees consist of academics interested in cultural research in the field of marketing and consumer research. We presented a preliminary account of our new videography project, ‘Pushing the Scene’, in which we attempt to build rich accounts of the negotiation of the social constructs of authenticity in the dubstep electronic music subculture. The newest member of our research team, Risto Roman, was also present to bring further insight into the cultural realm of dubstep (Risto produces and DJs under the alias Desto).
Like Rob Kozinets has already pointed out in his insightful blog postings, this was the best CCT yet. From my humble vantage point of having attended approximately 20 conferences in international contexts, I can do nothing else than to wholeheartedly agree! Indeed, the presentations and discussions were of high quality, but I must also emphasize what consists of the true magic of the CCT gatherings – the laid-back atmosphere and the truly engaging conversations that occur beyond the conference agenda (yes, this would also entail the great parties this year and before). A special shout-out must go out to Rob, Alex Thompson, Marylouise Caldwell, Paul Henry, Handan Vicdan and Sofia Ulver-Sneistrup along with others making up our outgoing posse. Good times, good times. Like the saying goes, this trip was not one of economy or its health-promoting qualities.
Coming back to Rob’s blog, he has already provided an in-depth account of the conference and its contributions (and rumors and some minor controversy). What happened in the first session was that Eric Arnould called for the cessation of case studies in the CCT field. The discussion developed into relatively voluminous amounts of spilled digital ink (see also the comments in Rob’s blog) about what became resolved as an issue of conceptualization. This approach is further clarified by Robert Kozinet’s following point “…ethnography leave unclear what the difference is between “single” and “not-single”. From my perspective, there thus seems to be more agreement than not on the larger issue, which would naturally have to do with the further work of legitimizing CCT research in general. This task can be undertaken by further development of a focus in robust theoretizations and deep ethnographic takes. Certainly, if scholarly work in our field remains primarily focused on a description, we we stand to lose a lot of our potential. From my perspective, especially one that is now fortified with encouraging experiences in the CCT5, the general ethos of the CCT crowd is exactly doing this, moving to the direction of emphasis on theoretical work and (even) more holistic approaches into various consumption contexts.
Another thoroughly interesting moment was the luncheon keynote on Friday by John Deighton, the editor of Journal of Consumer Research (JCR), the most prestigious journal in all scholarly things consumer. One of the core insights he shared was the increasing need to consider the impact of CCT for managers – i.e. what can CCT offer in the practice of companies’ marketing efforts. Indeed, it seems, that the cultural side of the matter is becoming increasingly recognized by companies also (e.g. Proctor & Gamble, Nokia), and therefore we must contemplate our role in this transformation. This provides opportunities for interesting shifts in ethos, as many CCT scholars with their close affiliation to the critical marketing discourse have traditionally not been closely tied to the managerial end of things. Perhaps, as cultural insight becomes increasingly relevant for companies, they will also provide us with more interesting opportunities for cooperation to bring in thought that has less to do with the reduction of the consumer into a number and more to do with holistic and co-creative approaches. Thus, we CCT researchers must remain ever vigilant in reminding ourselves to keep and open mind and readily pursue these opportunities as they emerge. Perhaps, in the future, there may be new openings for positions of chief cultural officers, as McCracken calls it.
Regarding the contributions of the CCT crowd in JCR, Deighton gave us some juicy morsels along with more sobering accounts and suggestions for the future of CCT research. Now, it must be remembered, that even with the encouraging growth of the CCT tradition, we are still far from being a firmly established and traditional field – some would certainly refer to us as still being on the fringe. For these reasons it was truly inspiring to have Deighton tell us that CCT accounts for much of very interesting and high-quality research in the journal. Thus, he contended, we CCT scholars have (in terms of the number of researchers in the field) become ‘over-represented’ in the journal. However, he continued, with growth comes responsibility and the need strategize and find ally discourses in academia. One such promising field could certainly be anthropology, with their ongoing trends of becoming increasingly interested in subcultural phenomena and becoming less ‘realist’ and more interpretative and reflexive.
While Deighton’s insights are certainly valuable for our field – indeed we need to display a more cohesive whole to become more distinctly recognizable – it is my belief that CCT’s somewhat Feyerabendian approach of (virtually) ‘anything goes’ has and will continue to be a source of interesting research and creativity. Naturally, this ‘anything goes’ does not mean complete ontological and epistemological relativism here, but rather denotes the ongoing freedom to pursue social phenomena from diverse theoretical perspectives and a relatively liberal methodological toolkit. Social phenomena will continue on to consist of equally diverse constructs – constantly negotiated, constantly evolving – and thus we can certainly draw form a tradition promoting freedom and courage in our work.
Anyway, thank you CCT for a fantastic experience. See you guys in EACR London in a couple of weeks. Meanwhile, we’ll hang out in the Big Apple to continue our project of exploring the negotiation of authenticity in the electronic music subculture of dubstep. Lots of film to capture! Joonas will provide a more detailed account of the presentations in the conference, and I’ll be sure to jot down an account of our experiences in NYC also.